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Is it correct to say "I wrote him" or "I wrote to him"? My Mother was a stickler for English grammar and would say "I wrote your Uncle..." rather than "I wrote to your Uncle..."

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2 Answers

Write is a verb that can be used as a transfer (3-place) verb, and thus can have an indirect object, marked with to.

1. She wrote a long letter to Bill.

This can participate in the Dative Alternation, which drops the to:

2. She wrote Bill a long letter.

Write in this usage also allows the direct object to be understood as some kind of letter or message, since that's what the usage specifies. This leaves only the indirect object.

But the deletion of the predictable direct object can occur with either variant.

(1) above produces (3) below

3. She wrote __ to Bill.

while (2) above produces (4) below.

4. She wrote Bill __ .

So they're both correct, and identical, because syntactic alternations don't change meaning.

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In American English. See Barrie's answer for British English. –  Colin Fine Apr 10 '13 at 16:40
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As Barrie and Colin point out, this is American English usage. I speak Midwestern American English and have almost no knowledge of British Englishes. –  John Lawler Apr 10 '13 at 16:42
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The practice in British English is to use write to when there is no direct object, so we would say I wrote to your uncle, rather than I wrote your uncle. However, when a direct object is present and it occurs after the name of the person addressed, to is omitted, so we would say I wrote your uncle a letter. If the direct object occurs directly after the verb, to reappears: I wrote a letter to your uncle.

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That BrE point seems right to me. I wrote your uncle. as a standalone sentence does have a decidedly "American" flavour to it. And somewhere in Paul Simon's lyrics there's "Why don't you write me?" –  FumbleFingers Apr 10 '13 at 16:12
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